Respect life of the elderly

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | October 1, 2014

Opposing assisted suicide not enough

During a gathering for elderly people at the Vatican last Sunday, Pope Francis decried the lack of respect for aging citizens.

“A people who don’t take care of their grandparents and don’t treat them well is a people with no future,” Pope Francis said at St. Peter’s Square Sept. 28, to a crowd of 40,000 grandparents, retired men and women and their families attending “The Blessing for a Long Life” event. The gathering was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Families who abandon and neglect the elderly, the pope said, “lose the memory (of the past) and they sever their own roots.” These actions “are a real and true hidden euthanasia.”

About 700 miles away in Belgium, where euthanasia has been legal since 2002, an elderly couple, identified only by their first names, announced plans Sept. 26 to be the first couple to die by assisted suicide. Francis, 89, and Anne, 86, of Brussels told Moustique, a Belgian online news service, that they plan to carry out their assisted suicides on Feb. 3, 2015 — their 64th wedding anniversary. Both Francis and Anne have medical challenges. Francis receives treatment for prostate cancer and Anne is partially blind and deaf.

Francis and Anne, like most elderly couples, fear what the future brings. They fear for their independence and they fear losing their spouses. This is where their support system — their family and faith — should step in to offer support. Instead, their three children back the couple’s wishes, with one son going so far as to find a doctor who will carry out his parents’ assisted suicide.

“The family says the assisted suicides can be justified on the grounds that the couple’s potential mental anguish constitutes the unbearable suffering needed to legally justify euthanasia,” reported the Mirror of England. The children also say they would be unable to care for either parent if they become widowed.

If there was ever an extreme example of the culture of death, this is it. Instead of being able to turn to the loving embrace of family in their time of need, instead of turning to God and faith in the resurrection, Francis and Anne, have been drained of the dignity given to them by their creator. They no longer see their lives as sacred. It is a sad statement and a poor reflection of our society.

Each year, the Catholic Church observes Respect Life Month in October. The theme of Respect Life Month 2014, fittingly, is “Each of Us is a Masterpiece of God’s Creation.” Viewing our elders as a burden contradicts this understanding of human dignity our church proclaims.

In his statement for Respect Life Month, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap., chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, says our mission as Catholics “is to show each person the love of Christ.” This can be done by drawing closer to Jesus in prayer and in the sacraments, says Cardinal O’Malley. “We must ask the Lord for the grace to see ourselves and others as he sees us — as masterpieces of his creation.”

Assisted suicide is an abomination that contradicts this view. What can we do to change it? Opposing legislation to legalize assisted suicide is not enough. It begins by human contact. By ministering to the elderly in any way we can, whether it is visiting an elderly relative or friend, taking Communion to nursing home residents, calling or writing an elderly acquaintance or even sharing a smile and handshake with them at church or in the neighborhood.

Our example of compassion for the elderly will go a long way in teaching children how to respect, love and care for their elders. That is a lesson seemingly missed by acquaintances of Francis and Anne of Brussels.

To learn more about respect life issues, read this week’s Respect Life section.

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